Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Wow, that’s quite a delayed post innit. Almost half of 2016 gone and this post comes up now. Well, between travel, a couple of personal changes and time to settle in, and of course, the reading for 2016 and also laziness (never forget that), the last few months have pretty much been a blur, leaving hardly any time to write.

 

There is this phrase being used called Peak TV. Basically there is so much television to watch across so many channels (the medium), that its insanely impossible to catch up with all the great television being produced. In a way that is true for genre fiction as well. There are just so many, so many books out there, no matter how much you read, you can barely put a dent in your TBR (To-Be-Read) Mountain. My personal tally was 90 books for 2015, no mean tally (in all modesty :P) and yet, there are books left by the roadside that possibly I will get to someday. On a side note, my TBR shelf has gotten so unmanageable, that I have had to create a subfolder called Priority Backlist to prioritize within TBR itself. The other side effect of having so many releases to catch up per week has forced me to be organized for the first time in my life. I started creating yearly lists to read and also to capture what has been read (My 2016 TBR Shelf, 2016 Read Shelf). As I have mentioned in my posts in previous years (here and here), my reading habits have become extremely contemporary, with almost 90% of what I read being something that is released in the current year. Only in cases where a later book in a series I do want to catch up comes out, do I go back in time to read.

 

Physical books seem to be making a comeback according to quite a few reports. If that happens, that’s quite the reversal when the death of physical books was shouted from everywhere once ebooks starts gaining prominence and relevance. It may be a temporary fightback since the future is pretty much going to be digital. From my side, I barely read 3 physical books. Else, it has all been ebooks. As I never get tired of saying, the sheer convenience of able to read a book anywhere using a device that is with you the most (the phone) and the ability to seamlessly sync across devices, makes ebooks a winner.

 

2015 saw an amazing number of fantastic releases on paper and to a great extent, they lived up to it. What I have below is my curated, supremely subjective, extremely unscientific list of the best 2015 had to offer. While I do have the books in no particular order below, some books in this list will remain very close to my heart and for various reasons that I will detail below.

 

1. Red Rising/ Golden Son – Pierce Brown : Read this: If you love fast-paced operatic tales of revenge , class struggle and brutal twists

Golden Son

Easily, the best read of the year. My review description for the book read as follows, “If Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game and the Hunger Games had a ménage a trios (with a helping hand from The Count of Monte Cristo) and produced an offspring, that would be this book” and I see no reason to change the description. Both books are brutal. Fundamentally trying to engineer a revolution, the class struggle led by the hidden agent, the chief protagonist Darrow, is a brutal read. Pierce Brown crafts an absolutely fascinating world and an eternal timeless struggle. With an absolutely unputdownable pace, compelling storytelling and bloody brutal violent twists, The Red Rising series is well on its way to be rated as an absolutely brilliant modern great

 

 

2. The Liar’s Key (The Red Queen’s War #2) – Mark Lawrence – Read this: If you love complex characters who you love to hate but can’t. Also, for black humor-based one-liners

Liar's Key

 

Mark Lawrence has yet to write a bad book and it’s amazing how he manages to craft a compelling lead out of the dregs that humanity has to offer and humanizes then. Jorg was an easy character to hate and yet root for. But Jalan (the lead character here) is different. He is a coward, a womanizer, selfish, capricious, a lush and yet Lawrence adds layer on layer to him, making what on paper seems an uni-dimensional character, greater. That is not to say Jalan becomes a hero, fair from it but there is something underneath that is shaped by circumstances past and present. Humor is never far away but the undertone is always gallow.

 

 

3. Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool #2) – Robin Hobb – Read this: If you love reading highly emotional, beautiful writing and deeply flawed, human and complex characters

 

Fools Quest

This book is truly wonderfully special as it has THAT Fitz moment we have waited, 8 books and (since I read the Farseer trilogy in 2005) 10 years for. But with that moment comes the dread, as you know any moment of high for Fitz pretty much leads to a debilitating low and that’s pretty much what happens. Robin Hobb remains one of those authors who will use 10 words when 1 would suffice and that hardly matters. You could have her write down a shopping list and I would read it. Exquisitely beautiful.

 

 

4. Escape from Baghdad – Saad Hossain – Read this: If you love Catch-22 and Three Kings, and want a slightly more accessible, relatable book detailing a war from our times

 

Escape from Baghdad

The best stand-alone book of the year, Escape from Baghdad is a fantastic book that almost brings to the life the absurdity, the hidden political allegory and anger of the movie, 3 Kings and Brian K Vaughan’s The Pride of Baghdad. You don’t need to be a genre fiction fan to pick this up. The book combines black gallows humor with a dose of slapstick and buffoonery associated with the inept, bumbling characters and war profiteering and chicanery in the simmering cauldron of Baghdad. The city’s history and mythology serves as a fantastic supporting character in this fabulous madcap tale

 

 

5. Nice Dragons Finish Last/ One Good Dragon Deserves Another (Heartstrikers series) – Rachel Aaron – Read this: If you love dragons, fast paced stories and underdogs. Also, if you love dysfunctional families

 

Rachel Aaron crafts a fantastic and fascinating world where dragons exist and can take human form. In this world, she introduces Julius Heartstriker, the youngest of the clan, a lazy, cowardly dragon locked in human form by the Heartstriker matriarch as a punishment for being totally useless. What follows is a breathtaking journey of politics and betrayal amidst intricate world building. With a no-hold-barred plotting, selfish and mad matriarchs, madder seers, there is hardly a dull moment in this action packed, humorous tale

 

 

6. The Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne #2) – Brian Staveley – Read this: If you love dysfunctional families and old-fashioned epic fantasy

 

Providence of Fire

Who doesn’t love dysfunctional siblings trying to kill, for a throne, manipulated by outside interests? Staveley’s debut novel was pretty much old wine in a new bottle. What Staveley does right is to address the justified criticism of the 1st book where the female lead got the short shrift. Here, Adare gets an equal role to her brothers as she learns what it means to be a politician and a ruler. The overarching stakes are revealed even as the invisible puppet masters reveal themselves slowly.  Staveley has got an easy pace and style of writing. This is truly epic fantasy done right and in the new age style

 

 

7. The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher – Read this: If you love air battles, new magic systems, non-stop action and cats!!!

 

Aeronauts Windlass

Butcher writes for the fans in all of us and he doesn’t disappoint with his new series. Set in a steampunk setting in a world built on spires, the non-stop thrill a minute entertainer hits the ground running (bad pun given we have air ships here). He introduces a motley bunch, juggles the POVs well and even has time to indulge in cat dramatics. As always, packed with humor and thrills, this looks like another winner and a series to stay

 

 

8. The Autumn Republic (Powder Mage #3) – Brian McClellan – Read this: If you love Brandon Sanderson style of storytelling and bitter-sweet endings

 

Autumn Republic

An epic conclusion to the Powder Mage trilogy, the final book does not disappoint. The pace is as frenetic as ever but not at the expense of character development. The body count is high, the action is exhilarating and exhausting and the end is typically epic and satisfying. Gut wrenching and moving, even if you see the end coming from when the 1st book started. A tale that encompasses gods, mortals and privileged, the battle scenes are top notch and the politicking is clever.

 

 

9. The Prophecy Con/ The Paladin Caper (Rogues of the Republic series) – Patrick Weekes – Read this: If you love Ocean’s 11, Lies of Locke Lamora, large and non-homogenous cast, witty asides and sarcastic retorts

 

Clever, wonderful, cute and entertaining, this is one of those books that you pick up and read when you are alone. Because if you read it in a public space, you cannot stop laughing out loud and thereby earning quite a few concerned glances directed towards you. The cast is really juggled immensely well and everyone gets a chance to shine. The pacing is breathtaking (literally as well) and the series ends quite neatly as well

 

 

10. Knight’s Shadow (Greatcoats #2) – Sebastian de Castell – Read this: If you love 3 Musketeers, swashbuckling swordplay, first person narrative and humor

 

Knights Shadow

Knight’s Shadow forced me to think up a new genre – the grindark. There is just enough humor packed in the narrative to hide the darkness that permeates through the book. Continuing in vein of book 1, our intrepid band of Greatcoats try to fulfill their dead king’s wishes even as the country rebel against them and pretty much tries to go up in flames. The action sequences are details and fantastic. The swordplay sequences are quite intimate and in your face and fast. The character dynamics are supremely awesome and each character has such a unique voice. The betrayals are hard and deadly and make this an entirely compelling read

 

 

Almost in top 10 (in no particular order)

 

  1. Gemini Cell – Myke Cole :Read this: if you like military fantasy, unique magic systems and conspiracies

Gemini Cell

 

  1. The Rebirths of Tao (Tao #3) – Wesley Chu:Read this: if you are a desk-bound internet warrior who dreams of saving the world and if you like voices in your head

Rebirths of Tao

 

  1. Generation V/ Iron Night/ Tainted Blood/ Dark Ascension (Generation V) – ML Brennan:Read this: if you like non-Twilighty Vampires, The Godfather and dysfunctional families

 

  1. Dark Run – Mike Brooks :Read this: if you like Firefly, space operas and awesome fun team dynamics

Dark Run

 

  1. Wake of Vultures (The Shadow #1) – Lila Bowen:Read this: if you like the wild, wild and weird westerns and kick-ass non-conformist female leads

Wake of Vultures

My Goodreads shelf for 2015

 

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Welcome to the 2nd edition of the review of the best Speculative Fiction books of the year. And this turned out to be one hell of a year to be a reader. A whole bunch of awesome boundary pushing books, promising debuts, and the Grim Dark getting grimmer and darker.

In 2014, I completed 91 books mostly from the fantasy genre with a smattering of sci-fi, other fiction genres, non-fiction ending the year trawling the last 3 years of DC verse of Batman, Justice League and the Big Events. This huge jump in reading was primarily attributable to 2 interlinked reasons, the sheer increase of domestic travel and the increasing comfort of reading books on the mobile. In fact, of the 80 odd books (removing the graphic novels), I potentially would have read atleast 50% of them on the mobile phone. With phone batteries being what they are, the most useful acquisition of the year happened to the portable charger. Such a life saver it turned out to be.

Creating a best of list for the year turned out to be such a big pain. While ratings were captured diligently at Goodreads (the biggest change from last year, where I was on Shelfari), ratings sometimes are not true reflectors of what you really feel for the book and sometimes, it requires you to revisit a book again to really get a sense of what you missed in between the numerous flights and travel tensions

While the top 10 books are in no particular order, 2 books stand out among them for books of the year and make it nigh high impossible to select the first among equals. Without much ado, the top 10 below

1) The Martian by Andy Weir (Joint Best of the Year)

the-martian

Synopsis

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

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A brilliantly narrated book all the way through with such an awesome voice. In the hands of any other writer, this would have come as whiny but Andy Weir infuses Mark Watney with such a fantastic attitude and spunk, the book never ever feels wrong. A bit technical but easily followable (and even if not, just go with the flow), this is one hell of a tale. Easily among the most accessible books of the year, this is a book for all ages and one of the books that can be recommended without any fear to anyone (My personal stats on this one is 33 recommendations and barring one who has not completed the book, not a single dissenting voice). While it’s set on Mars, this is not really sci-fi. It’s just pure escapist thriller

 

 

2) Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb (Joint Best of the Year)

Fool's Assassin

Synopsis

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown.

But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more…

On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing.

Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger?

Suddenly Fitz’s violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe

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Why does a book where nothing really happens for 80% of the book figure as the top book of the year? For the simple reason that its written by Robin Hobb and features FitzChivalry Farseer. Actually, by this time Hobb could just have Fitz writing down a shopping list and I would buy that. Hobb’s writing is emotional. Period. There is a sense of loss, nostalgia and simple happiness permeating right through the book. That in reality is the magic and among the reasons why we read books. Absolutely lovely

 

3) Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (The Stormlight Archive, Book 2)

Words of Radiance

Synopsis

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status “darkeyes.” Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

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Putting the epic in epic fantasy, book 2 of the Stormlight Archive is a massive tome. In fact, as Sanderson calls it, the book is a trilogy in itself. Packing in tons of epic moments and action set pieces, Sanderson does a fantastic job in crafting what is likely to be his magnum opus. While Way of Kings had to spend a fair bit of time in context setting and exposition, Words of Radiance fairly breezes through even if there is the whiny angst of Kaladin to contend with before he embraces his heroic nature to save the day. Brandon Sanderson answers a whole bunch of questions this early in the series while serving up a lot more. Terrific

 

4) Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Fools

Synopsis

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board

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Mark Lawrence’s debut trilogy was a hit or miss. You either loved it or hated it based on how you liked Jorg Ancranth, who can be mildly described as a psychopathic hero (I Loved it). Set in the same world, Mark Lawrence debuts his next series this time featuring a coward, womanizer and a liar as the lead. Prince Jallan (Jal for short) is unlike any lead you would have encountered. Paired with a strapping northman (Viking) Snorri who is his exact opposite, this makes for one hell of a buddy pairing as the pair travel north bound to each other by a curse. This is the kind of book where the one liners just keep on coming but the general grimness never seems to ease. A worthy addition to the Broken Empire series, this seems decidedly a better book compared to Prince of Thorns. Prince of Thorns had the shock value of Jorg while this one is just so well written more than anything

 

5) Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Breach Zone

Synopsis

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began “coming up Latent,” developing terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Those who Manifest must choose: become a sheepdog who protects the flock or a wolf who devours it…

In the wake of a bloody battle at Forward Operating Base Frontier and a scandalous presidential impeachment, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson, call sign “Harlequin,” becomes a national hero and a pariah to the military that is the only family he’s ever known.

In the fight for Latent equality, Oscar Britton is positioned to lead a rebellion in exile, but a powerful rival beats him to the punch: Scylla, a walking weapon who will stop at nothing to end the human-sanctioned apartheid against her kind.

When Scylla’s inhuman forces invade New York City, the Supernatural Operations Corps are the only soldiers equipped to prevent a massacre. In order to redeem himself with the military, Harlequin will be forced to face off with this havoc-wreaking woman from his past, warped by her power into something evil…

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A delicious action packed romp, Myke Cole concludes the Shadow Ops trilogy in grand style. Mixing the mile a minute action with quieter moments that build up the supporting cast from previous book who take center stage here, what follows is a rival-the-Avengers-style attack on Manhattan that is in parts exhilarating and in parts terrifying. The book handles the military side of the conflict supremely well even if the political resolution seems a bit hurried. But this is a world that bears revisiting and here’s hoping for more books in the same universe from Myke Cole

 

6) City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

Synopsis

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city’s proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power.

Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Divani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country’s most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian.

As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well

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City of Stairs is Robert Bennett’s first foray into epic fantasy and what a book this turns out to be. City of Stairs turns out to be richly majestic. A book that starts out as a murder mystery morphs into a spy thriller featuring dead gods, miracles, spies among others. The central character here is the city of Bulikov which cedes its secrets very reluctantly. With an awesome female lead character and a Viking like prince as her support, the tropes are neatly turned. The book takes sometime going but once it starts, there is no way it can be kept down. Also among the few books I rated 5 stars for the year

 

7) The Craft Sequence by Max Gladstone

Three Parts Dead Two Serpents Rise

Synopsis

THREE PARTS DEAD (Book 1)

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Set in a phenomenally built world in which justice is a collective force bestowed on a few, craftsmen fly on lightning bolts, and gargoyles can rule cities, Three Parts Dead introduces readers to an ethical landscape in which the line between right and wrong blurs

TWO SERPENTS RISE (Book 2)

Shadow demons plague the city reservoir, and Red King Consolidated has sent in Caleb Altemoc — casual gambler and professional risk manager — to cleanse the water for the sixteen million people of Dresediel Lex. At the scene of the crime, Caleb finds an alluring and clever cliff runner, crazy Mal, who easily outpaces him.

But Caleb has more than the demon infestation, Mal, or job security to worry about when he discovers that his father — the last priest of the old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists — has broken into his home and is wanted in connection to the attacks on the water supply.

From the beginning, Caleb and Mal are bound by lust, Craft, and chance, as both play a dangerous game where gods and people are pawns. They sleep on water, they dance in fire… and all the while the Twin Serpents slumbering beneath the earth are stirring, and they are hungry

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A bit of cheat here since this one features the 1st 2 books in the series, Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. This is one damn inventive innovative piece of work. The sheer brilliance in world building carries both the books. Three Parts Dead has quite the characters and interactions, while Two Serpents Rise suffers a bit from having not so great a chemistry between the lead pair. While we do not follow the same characters in both the books, the world shared is the same and it’s a testament to Gladstone’s skills that he has crafted (all pun intended) a very vibrant different world in each book

 

8) The Widow’s House by Daniel Abraham

The Widow's House

Synopsis

THE RISE OF THE DRAGON AND THE FALL OF KINGS

Lord Regent Geder Palliako’s war has led his nation and the priests of the spider goddess to victory after victory. No power has withstood him, except for the heart of the one woman he desires. As the violence builds and the cracks in his rule begin to show, he will risk everything to gain her love or else her destruction.

Clara Kalliam, the loyal traitor, is torn between the woman she once was and the woman she has become. With her sons on all sides of the conflict, her house cannot stand, but there is a power in choosing when and how to fall.

And in Porte Oliva, banker Cithrin bel Sarcour and Captain Marcus Wester learn the terrible truth that links this war to the fall of the dragons millennia before, and that to save the world, Cithrin must conquer it

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If there is a series that has gotten progressively awesome, The Dagger and Coin series has to be top of that list. There has been no middle book syndrome, no treading water even as characters push towards endgame. Instead, Daniel Abraham has introduced his own take on traditional fantasy, nudging the standard tropes just enough to make characters and situations extremely compelling. There is no greater example that the supposed villain of the series, Geder Pallaiko. Each character has his own view of him from a tyrannical despot to a sniveling coward to a lost and genuinely confused kid. Finance and Politics make for awesome if untrustworthy bedmates and that is played out in full in the best traditions of GRRM and Raymond Feist

 

9) The Crimson Campaign by Brian McClellan

The Crimson Campaign

Synopsis

‘The hounds at our heels will soon know we are lions’

Tamas’s invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god.

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might come too quickly.

With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself alongside the god-chef Mihali as the last line of defence against Kresimir’s advancing army. Tamas’s generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye

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Possibly the book with the highest body count, this flintlock fantasy (gunpowder magic) from Brian McClellan packs an explosive punch. Terrific pacing and big action set pieces interspersed with quiet character moments and relationship building make this a book that avoids the middle book syndrome of treading water very efficiently. There is an almost Sanderson-esque approach to storytelling combined with a Hannibal level predilection for blood, bodies and bullets. With three central characters, this is a tale of revenge, identity and survival for one and all the characters. (plus it had an impressive cover)

 

10) The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

The Palace Job

Synopsis

The most powerful man in the republic framed her, threw her in prison, and stole a priceless elven manuscript from her family.

With the help of a crack team that includes an illusionist, a unicorn, a death priestess, a talking warhammer, and a lad with a prophetic birthmark, Loch must find a way into the floating fortress of Heaven’s Spire–and get past the magic-hunting golems and infernal sorcerers standing between her and the vault that holds her family’s treasure.

It’d be tricky enough without the military coup and unfolding of an ancient evil prophecy–but now the determined and honourable Justicar Pyvic has been assigned to take her in.

But hey, every plan has a few hitches

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Think Ocean’s Eleven (the good parts) mixed with Locke Lamora (without the darker portions) in a fantastic world featuring among others a talking Warhammer and an Unicorn, this book is the glimmer of sunlight in the GrimDark world. Absolutely fun and wickedly funny, this is a book of witty one-liners, snappy rejoinders and tremendous camaraderie. A fast paced heist thriller, there is hardly a dull moment and to an extent, the book is positive and joyous. Easily the most entertaining book of the year and one likely to have weird stares thrown your way in a crowded airport when you suddenly guffaw out loud or are trying to unsuccessfully hold back a bout of giggles. Optimistic is the word you conjure up once you read this book. Insane giddy fun

 

 

PS: An interesting trend is the number of books that have female leads, 5 (50%). Not bad at all. Quite a change from the usual male lead dominated books.

What’s with Christopher Nolan and his love/ penchant for quoting from classics. If it was Charles Dickens “A Tale of 2 Cities” that served as inspiration for The Dark Knight Rises, this above mentioned quote seems to be the inspiration for the latest Nolan pic, Interstellar. Not much is known about Interstellar. Shrouded in secrecy until the 2nd trailer that came out recently, especially in this age of the leaking of pics of initial scenes to build out the hype (yes, I am looking at Zack Snyder), the details that we know about the movie pretty much talk about the how earth cannot survive and a teary Mathew McConaughey heading out on his way for interstellar travel. With a November time slot for release, Nolan is playing well outside the typical summer blockbuster release window paving the way for hope that this might turn out to be a more balanced, human drama with a good story rather than a smorgasbord of special effects and cringe inducing dialogs.And not to be forget suitably operatic score by Hans Zimmer as usual

 

One business that seems to be gently heading into the night is specialty book stores. Over the last couple of weeks, I have been getting SMSs on massive discounts at Landmark. This seemed to be in line with the rumors that Landmark was shutting down. And lo, when I visited Landmark at Citi Center over the weekend, it was a grim sight. In the words of Matt Farrell in Die Hard 4 – “That’s why they call it a fire sale, because everything must go”. Everything was gone or going. Insane discounts – 80% off on most of the books. Vast empty shelves lining up the walls with a few books on the central displays being aggressively hunted by the few people who wanted to make the most of it (including yours truly), it reminded me of a corpse being pecked away by a group of vultures.

 

Everything Must Go!!!!! photo 2

This being the 2nd such fire sale of a large book store chain that I have witnessed (the first being Borders in NYC, a huge store in downtown where literally everything had to go, even book shelves at $50 and books at 50 cents) begets the thought on why are things in such a state. It is easy and convenient to blame a variety of factors. Disruptive innovation in the medium of sales through the likes of Amazon, Flipkart et al. Disruptive innovation in technology through the proliferation of ebooks, the convenience of which makes life infinitely easier. A general decline in reading habits and time (sheesh, I sound like an oldie but sadly, its true) is definitely another key factor. Also, the fact that it’s easier to watch a movie based on a book rather than read the book itself. An avid reader as myself, I have also been guilty of the first two. Its been ages since I went into a bookstore and from a purely convenience reason, of the 30 odd books I have read this year, just 2 have been hard copies. (To be entirely honest, I do end up buying hard copies of books that I really loved in the year as e-books, mostly the first book in a series)

That being all said and done, isn’t the purpose of a business in staying relevant in current times, linked to adjusting itself to market dynamics? With nimbleness being the order of the day for e-retailers, to mangle and mash what Louis Gerstner said, can the modern day elephants of book shops really dance? Staying true to my profession, the answer of course is, it depends and for more details, I would need a charge code :). Maybe the day of the large specialty book store is really done and the way forward is to

1) Potentially co-exist with other retailers (like what Crosswords has done).

2) Embrace concept of online book stores and formats and price accordingly given that a few controllable cost elements can be levered. After all, customer needs and whom they buy for are more often than not tied to prices

3) Aggressively open up smaller stores in airports and railway stations, after all those are the places for impulse purchases especially when you dont want to make conversation 😛

If nothing, book publishers and authors should be all the more concerned on how fast things are going down and the current situation involving Amazon and Hachette. Without taking sides in that battle, at the end of the day, it is a situation of one powerful entity trying to impose what it feels best for the customers (apparently) on an erstwhile powerful entity who is defending its position as being the best for authors (again, apparently). While there is truth on both sides, ultimately this protracted battle’s victims are reading customers and authors. A sad state of affairs indeed.

 

On a happier note, my scavenging efforts yielded 3 books

photo

 

1) Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons – A sequel to what is the best Science Fiction book I have read

2) Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson, Malazan Book 9 – Now that after 4 tries and 2 years, I have gotten done with Malazan Book 1, I feel myself strangely ambitious in completing what is at times the most frustrating, challenging and complex read I have ever had

3) The City’s Son by Tom Pollock – London. Underworld. Urban Fantasy. All checked

For books costing Rs. 1200, I got all of these for a cool 120 bucks. 90% off. Insane

What a great year to be a reader of speculative fiction. Some long awaited books finally out, a few series getting over (and potentially be part of future best series), emergence of flintlock fantasy as a new sub-genre, promising debuts and a renewed focus on military fantasy (both medieval and modern).

Personally, this year marked a significant change in my reading habits. I started reading a fair amount of current year releases than previous years, motivated partly by the need to keep track of what’s happening in the space and driven partly by the completion of some of the older series. While the number of books I bought has remained more or less the same, I have almost stopped buying physical books (running out of shelf space is quite a reason) (Non-fiction and Indian authors being the only books I end up buying, purely owing to the well, the non-torrentability of the Indian authors and outrageous prices for the ebooks). The amount of books consumed as well went up this year primarily due to technology convergence and syncing. From starting a book on the tablet to continuing to read it on the laptop to finishing it on the phone, this helped me reduce the multiple book syndrome and concentrated attention to 2 and at max, 3 books at a time. Urban Fantasy, which I discovered last year courtesy Jim Butcher, formed a decent chunk of my reading. Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne (Dresden-lite, if you will) and Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka proving to be discoveries of the year. This is likely to continue with books from Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell being part of my immediate TBR (To Be Read) list. I closed the year with a good heaping of military fantasy, polishing off The Shadow Campaign by Django Wexler and The Red Knight by Miles Cameron in quick succession and would definitely like to retain the taste for military fantasy in 2014.

With the amount and the sheer variety of the books, ranking does become inherently challenging. While I diligently capture book ratings on Shelfari (I somehow love the site more than Goodreads) (I love viewing my shelf of Shelfari), the book ratings often are a function of more than just how the book shaped out to be. Apart from being a function of the characterization, world building, pacing of the book, and the language, the rating also is affected by extraneous factors like, the timeframe book was read (during stressful / non-stressful periods, during travel or quick peeks) and how it was read (both the medium as well as how interrupted the reading cycle was). Given the profession and the pressure, it definitely is not realistic to expect an uninterrupted peaceful reading atmosphere every time and that one must grab every possible opportunity to read (sometimes even at the cost of re-reading pages to get back into the flow of the book)

Having caveated (I am a consultant after all), below are the list of some of my favorite books of 2013 (in no particular order, except for the 1st, which is my book of the year)

1)      The Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (The Broken Empire Series, Book 3):

Emperor of Thorns

Synopsis:

Mark Lawrence brings to a thrilling close his epic trilogy of a boy who would be king, a king who would desire an empire—and an empire on the edge of destruction…

King Jorg Ancrath is twenty now—and king of seven nations. 

His goal—revenge against his father—has not yet been realized, and the demons that haunt him have only grown stronger. Yet no matter how tortured his path, he intends to take the next step in his upward climb.

For there is only one power worth wielding…absolute power.

Jorg would be emperor. It is a position not to be gained by the sword but rather by vote. And never in living memory has anyone secured a majority of the vote, leaving the Broken Empire long without a leader. Jorg has plans to change that—one way or the other. He’s uncovered even more of the lost technology of the land, and he won’t hesitate to use it.

But he soon finds an adversary standing in his way, a necromancer unlike any he has ever faced—a figure hated and feared even more than himself: the Dead King.

The boy who would rule all may have finally met his match…

*************************************

A compelling tour-de-force. Mark Lawrence brings to conclusion his epic series in style. This remains one of those series that turns the fantasy trope on its head. Despite featuring a protagonist who knows of no other way to survive than be evil, you want Jorg Ancranth to win, to succeed and to rail against those who say no to him. It indeed has been a fascinating journey. Lawrence crafts the book with dark black humor and in this age of ever expanding series size, he brings the book to a conclusion, which is the conclusion we need and not necessarily the conclusion we deserve. Easily among the best books of the year.

2)      The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (The Lives of Tao, Book 1):

The Lives of Tao

Synopsis:

 When out-of-shape IT technician Roen woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it.

He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen is having to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

*************************************

Ever wondered if the voice that sounded in your head was never really you but an alien parasite residing in you, an alien species that has been part of this planet for billions of years, influencing human civilization, through acts big and small right through the ages. Lives of Tao is the result when the alien parasite enters the body of a stuck in a dead-end desk job, slacker who also suffers from low self-esteem and well, is supremely unfit as well. An utterly hilarious romp with enough action and training montages packed in, Lives of Tao is a fantastic read. While the sequel (The Deaths of Tao) didn’t really live up to the potential of the 1st book, it’s still worth a read. A delightful delicious romp with unique character voices and philosophical ruminations when you least expect it. A fabulous debut

3)      Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole (Shadow Ops, Book 2):

Fortress Frontier

Synopsis:

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.

 Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.

 Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

 Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one…

*************************************

Contemporary military fantasy is a difficult beast to get right once, let alone twice. After a rocking debut that was Control Point, Myke Cole betters it with Fortress Frontier. A more likeable, consistent character, an expansion to the existing world, building up of secondary characters, and the nuclear weapon of great books, a well-timed betrayal sets up this fast paced, intriguing book and leaves one salivating for the 3rd book (out in another few weeks)

4)      The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wacker:

The Golem & The Jinni

Synopsis:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

 Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

 Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

 Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

*************************************

Another fascinating debut. This book is as far removed away from fantasy fiction as it can get and yet retains all the fantasy elements necessary to bring about magic. A magic in writing, a magic in world building and a magic in characterization. This is a story about belonging and purpose. A love story and yet not a love story. Helene Wacker is a name to watch out for

5)      The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham (The Dagger and the Coin, Book 3):

The Tyrant's Law

Synopsis:

The great war cannot be stopped.

 The tyrant Geder Palliako had led his nation to war, but every victory has called forth another conflict. Now the greater war spreads out before him, and he is bent on bringing peace. No matter how many people he has to kill to do it.

 Cithrin bel Sarcour, rogue banker of the Medean Bank, has returned to the fold. Her apprenticeship has placed her in the path of war, but the greater dangers are the ones in her past and in her soul.

 Widowed and disgraced at the heart of the Empire, Clara Kalliam has become a loyal traitor, defending her nation against itself. And in the shadows of the world, Captain Marcus Wester tracks an ancient secret that will change the war in ways not even he can forsee.

*************************************

A book that gets into this list by the sheer dint of having crafted one of the most compelling antagonists in recent times. There is this popular saying that the most dangerous villains are the ones who believe that they are doing the right things. Geder Pallaiko thinks that his actions are just since he is doing the right thing but in reality, his actions are the actions of a weak man, who does not realize that he is a puppet and when he takes unilateral action, its usually is a result of his own insecurities and fear. This unpredictability makes him extremely feared by his opponents who view him as a hard cruel man. Being the middle book in the series, it does tread water a bit which is amply made up through the rich characterization

6)      Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan (Powder Mage Trilogy, Book 1):

Promise of Blood

Synopsis:

The Age of Kings is dead . . . and I have killed it.

 It’s a bloody business overthrowing a king…

Field Marshal Tamas’ coup against his king sent corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine and brought bread to the starving. But it also provoked war with the Nine Nations, internal attacks by royalist fanatics, and the greedy to scramble for money and power by Tamas’s supposed allies: the Church, workers unions, and mercenary forces.

 It’s up to a few…

Stretched to his limit, Tamas is relying heavily on his few remaining powder mages, including the embittered Taniel, a brilliant marksman who also happens to be his estranged son, and Adamat, a retired police inspector whose loyalty is being tested by blackmail.

 But when gods are involved…

Now, as attacks batter them from within and without, the credulous are whispering about omens of death and destruction. Just old peasant legends about the gods waking to walk the earth. No modern educated man believes that sort of thing. But they should…

 In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets?

*************************************

Another debut author featuring in the list, Promise of Blood places itself right after a coup has taken place and is a non-stop ride after that. With an unique magic system involving gunpowder, Promise of Blood packs in political intrigue and religious struggles amidst an action packed plot. While reading the book, I was constantly making comparisons to Brandon Sanderson’s works and realized that McClellan is one of Sanderson’s students. If imitation is the best form of flattery, McClellan has definitely chosen the right template and mentor and the end product could be written by Sanderson himself. No bigger praise than that

7)      Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams (Bobby Dollar, Book 2):

Happy Hour in Hell

Synopsis:

I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going.

My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.

She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.

But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pan- demonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?

 So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?

 So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.

                                 *************************************

Our favorite wise cracking, cynical and general wise-ass of an angel is back. Thematically though, the book sees a change moving from the urban crime investigation theme to more of an exploration of hell. Tad Williams takes the readers along with Bobby Dollar through the various levels of hell and it ain’t pretty. While the pacing of the book is on the slower side and the plot does not really progress much, this book clearly subscribes to the fact that the journey is as important as the destination and with its description of hell, you feel the torment and the tribulations that Bobby Dollar undergoes, for a forbidden love

8)      Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis (Milkweed Triptych, Book 3):

Necessary Evil

Synopsis:

 12 May 1940. Westminster, London, England:  the early days of World War II.

 Again.

 Raybould Marsh, one of “our” Britain’s best spies, has travelled to another Earth in a desperate attempt to save at least one timeline from the Cthulhu-like monsters who have been observing our species from space and have already destroyed Marsh’s timeline. In order to accomplish this, he must remove all traces of the supermen that were created by the Nazi war machine and caused the specters from outer space to notice our planet in the first place.

 His biggest challenge is the mad seer Gretel, one of the most powerful of the Nazi creations, who has sent a version of herself to this timeline to thwart Marsh.  Why would she stand in his way?  Because she has seen that in all the timelines she dies and she is determined to stop that from happening, even if it means destroying most of humanity in the process. And Marsh is the only man who can stop her

                                *************************************

Mixing magic with the real world is a recipe for extreme kitsch and laziness in plotting for most authors. Thankfully Ian Tregillis isn’t most authors. The concluding volume of the Milkweed Tiptych utilizes these elements perfectly and is a seamless continuation of the middle volume, with a significant chunk spent exploring the 1st book. With the aid of a plot device, that when used in most other books (and movies and TV series) usually gives me a headache, Tregillis uses it in a way that seems entirely plausible (in the context of the book). Oh and also a big thumbs up for introducing a character best described as a precognitive sociopath through this series

9)      Blood Song by Anthony Ryan (Raven’s Shadow, Book 1):

Blood Song

Synopsis:

 “The Sixth Order wields the sword of justice and smites the enemies of the Faith and the Realm.”

 Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

 Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.

                                *************************************

If we cannot have Patrick Rothfuss, at least we have Anthony Ryan. High praise and comparison indeed. Rothfuss has demonstrated a style of writing and narration (albeit over two books) that is a pleasure and Anthony Ryan does the same in his debut book. While it’s difficult for any character to be even closely comparable to Rothfuss’ Kvothe, Ryan does a phenomenal job. The story has the easy pace, cadence and flow that you are lulled into a fascinating journey and without realizing, it’s 4AM on a working day

10)   The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett:

The Troupe

Synopsis:

 Vaudeville: mad, mercenary, dreamy, and absurd, a world of clashing cultures and ferocious showmanship and wickedly delightful deceptions.

 But sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole has joined vaudeville for one reason only: to find the man he suspects to be his father, the great Heironomo Silenus. Yet as he chases down his father’s troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are strange even for vaudeville: for wherever they happen to tour, the very nature of the world seems to change.

 Because there is a secret within Silenus’s show so ancient and dangerous that it has won him many powerful enemies. And it’s not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe is not simply touring: they are running for their lives.

 And soon…he is as well.

                                *************************************

Heartachingly beautiful. No other ways to describe this story of longing, belonging, love and hope. It’s moody and dark but never without hope. There is truly something about books/ movies that deal with music, traveling musicians, circuses et al that if done right easily vaults up to the top of my reading list starting with McLean in Caravan to Vaccares to Rothfuss in Name of the Wind. The Troupe is no exception to that and looking forward to more books from RBJ. (This is also the only exception in this list. All the books in the list were released in 2013 except for the Troupe. The Troupe due to the simple fact I read it in 2013. My blog, my list, my rules (when convenient of course))

Honorable Mentions:

1)      The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

2)      The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

3)      Hunted by Kevin Hearne (even if the new POV introduced is kind of grating and inconsistent)

Ambivalent Reactions:

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch: This is a book that I guess everyone had massive expectations on. We all wanted to see our familiar rogues (Locke and Jean) take on the world and with the introduction of a character that the Gentlemen Bastards considered a legend in flesh, this book should have had it all. Instead Sabetha didn’t live up the hype and the romance between Locke and Sabetha lacked chemistry. However, Scott Lynch remedies the situation by introducing a completely new wrinkle to the story, almost transforming perceptions on how future books are likely to pan out and this is my cause of excitement for the rest of the series.

PS: As one can see, I have gone with Speculative Fiction over the traditional fantasy fiction. Speculative Fiction is an overall umbrella that encompasses fantasy fiction, horror, supernatural, superhero, science fiction, apocalyptic et al (in short, the genres I pretty much read)

PPS: Disappointing read of 2013 could very well be The Daylight War by Peter V Brett. As much as I liked the Painted Man, this one got steadily irritating especially wrt some characters and the cliffhanger at the end of the book did seem a cheat of a way to end the book. And sadly, despite the title, there was no war

The very kind folks at Gollancz had air-mailed this book all the way from UK for me to review. The best part about the deal was the book was free and all one had to do was to review it within 3 weeks. Below is the review that I had written for the book. (what better way to keep the blog active, given how hectic schedules have become all of a sudden, there is barely anytime to read a book, let alone update the blog)

Wolfhound Century by Peter Higgins

Wolfhound Century

Imagine being invited to a sumptuous 5 course meal. Extremely rich & extremely delicious. However, as you finish the 2nd course, the dishes are whisked away and you are asked to come back again at a different time for the remaining courses. Wolfhound Century is a bit like that. A fantastically well written, brilliantly imagined world, set in a Russia, that may not be a Russia, Peter Higgins builds his world deftly and populates his world with characters and hidden worlds that are living breathing characters in themselves.
In a nutshell, the plot revolves around Vissarion Lom, a police investigator who is empowered by his supervisors to root out and find the leader of the revolutionaries, creating problems for a totalitarian government. However, things are not what they seem. Betrayals, corruption, deceit and bureaucracy confront Lom in every direction. Lom is a character we can all root for. A decent cop (a rarity), his are the eyes through which the book enfolds and what a world that is. This world is a one that had angels fall from the skies and has a hidden world that is targeted for destruction.
Its quite an intriguing thriller and Higgins has short chapters that help drive a sense of urgency to proceedings. The book starts with a bang, lands you smack in between and lets you figure things out, even as things keep on happening. At 300 pages, a doorstop it is not. However, the very lack of length of the book throws a curve ball at you since you realize as you reach the end of the book, that the central conflict is not resolved and sets up the stage for a sequel, which does seem to come out of nowhere. Its a scenario where in you expect the Battle of Helm’s Deep to complete the Two Towers movie and instead the movie stops when Legolas takes out the Saruman’s Wargs. Which unfortunately is the aftertaste that you are left at the end of the book.
Peter Higgins definitely has a bright future given his prose and world building. However, what he needs to be working is to up the stake of his novels and make his climax bigger.
Count me intrigued for the next book in the series.
Overall rating: 6.5 Stone Angels on 10

Its been over 3 years since I have come to Hyderabad & it quite tells a story, that in these 3 years, my worldly acquisitions have been: TV, Fridge, Washing Machine & Books. Just earning a salary meant that I had the license to actually go the whole way & buy loads & loads of books. Some of them absolute classics, some which I am sure, I would not even take a look at again, Impulse buys, Carefully planned purchases, special books, cherished books, leave-your-brain while reading book; Thriller, Action, Mystery, Non-fiction, History, Politics, Comics, Fantasy Fiction, Cricket books; All these & more.

Its always been one of my greatest desires to have a really awesome bookshelf, overflowing with books of all kind. The one which is spacious but is still sagging under the weight of the books it has to bear. So when I shifted to my new place in Hyd almost 1.5 years ago, one of the things that I really loved about the place was the wood worked showcase. It seemed to be calling out to me to be filled up with books. A challenge I took on gamely. Time passed & books filled it up. And after spending the best part of today morning & afternoon cleaning, ordering & sorting it out, here is the end result. Enjoy 🙂



Fantasy Fiction with a smattering of Sci-Fi


Indian Authors with 1 Pakistani & 1 SL author plus overflow from below shelf


Assorted


My pride & joy - Comics


Serious Stuff


Author-wise collection

Brilliant & So True

Posted: June 8, 2011 in Books, Talking Heads

Prem Panicker of how difficult, candor is

“It is a very difficult thing to do, that: to lower your defenses, express yourself not just from the head but also the heart.

Because, each time you do that, you reveal a bit more about yourself. And the more you reveal, the more vulnerable you make yourself, the more you expose yourself to hurt, to ridicule.”

Source: http://prempanicker.wordpress.com/2009/11/03/open-and-bleeding/

15 Authors who have influenced me

Posted: December 14, 2010 in Books, Tag

There is this tag which has been circulating around Facebook on the 15 authors who had the most influence on you and you are not supposed to think too much. Which according to me does not really do justice to them who have really influenced you. So without much ado, here is my list 15

1. Enid Blyton : Writer extraordinaire. The kind of books that wanted you to go on a adventure immediately, eat something or own a dog. Best escape for any kid

2. Franklin W Dixon: Spent the better part of 3 years reading tons and tons of Hardy Boys. Adventure without too much bloodshed and a master of chapter cliff hangers. No violence but action. Clean humor.

3. Aliastair McLean: No one can quite write better war time/ Cold war stories in less than 300 pages than McLean. Terse, racy, the dry British humor all found a place in his stories often involving laconic, cynical, calculating almost superhumanly perfect heroes

4. Agatha Christie: Served as a nice counterpoint to McLean. Intensely cerebral, Christie’s stories are stories with strong pay-offs in the end and more often than not, is a function of meticulous planning

5. Jefferey Archer: No book has made me laugh more than Not a Penny more, Not a Penny less. Enough said

6. JRR Tolkien: For sheer imagination, scale and size of the world he had created. For producing one of my most favorite characters, Aragorn

7. Alexandre Dumas: One really can never get enough of Count of Monte Cristo despite multiple readings. There is something primeval about vengeance and its brought about in all its beauty and brutality by Dumas

8. Grant Morrison: No one straddles the thin line between Genius & Insanity better than Grant Morrison. Insane ideas rooted in insane worlds is just something that Morrison envisages on a daily basis

9. Ramachandra Guha: Brilliant writer, of both cricket & history, jointly & independently.

10. PG Wodehouse: Really, no description needed

11. George RR Martin: No one blurs white and black into gray as effectively or as brutally as Martin. If only, he could finish the damn series

12. Brian K Vaughn: Having a clear sense on how you want your story to end even as it starts and sticking to it is no mean task. BKV stands head and shoulders over other writers in infusing a sense of tragedy as well as belonging to the protagonist in each of his works

13. Geoff Johns: Writing for yourselves is as important as writing for the audience. No one does this as effectively week in week out as Johns. Despite working on high blown concepts, there are always moments for the fan when Johns throws everything including the kitchen sink in his storyline, while at the same time working new quirks or taking a look at characters in a totally new way

14. Shashi Tharoor: Great Indian Novel. Period.

15. Wilbur Smith: Passionate. No one makes Africa look as beautiful or as brutal as Wilbur Smith does. Once you have read his best works, all one wants to do is to pack a bag to Africa and leave to land up in one of those places he so beautifully describes

The Last Stand

Posted: October 19, 2010 in Book Review, Books
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There is always something romantic and poetic about the last stand that has kept authors employed for centuries. There is always the hero swinging away to glory, when all those around die, safe in the knowledge that truth and justice are on his side or that someone would come riding down ala Gandalf in Helm’s Deep to rescue him. What however gets swept down under the mass of bodies that lie piled up during a last stand, is the brutality of war and the motivation of those making the last stand.

Legend, by David Gemmell is the story of one such last stand. Set in the kingdom of Drenai, the frontier outpost castle of Dros Delnoch, is all that stands between the raging hordes of the Nadir tribe, united for the first time in their history under a formidable general, Ulric and the unprepared Drenai army. Dros Delnoch, a formidable fortress, however has seen better time. While the fortress itself is nigh impregnable, the men manning the fortress however are not. Underequipped, undermanned and poorly led, the fortress seems ripe for the plucking. Cometh the hour, Cometh the man. The man, is a legend, Druss the Deathwalker. A man who was responsible for singlehandedly turning the tide of the last battle. An old man who knows if he goes to Dros Delnoch, he goes to his death. And still he goes. At the other end of the scale is Rek. A warrior who has managed to stay alive because he is afraid and knows when to quit. However, he is drawn into this improbable situation for a woman (what else?) and now has to fight not only to save his life and conquer his fear but for the damsel in distress too

However, what distinguishes, Legend from the other run-of-the-mill stories, are the characters and their motivations as well as the brutality of war. Gemmell does not shy away from presenting the face of war which is normally glossed over. The fighting is brutal, bloody and gut wrenching (literally and figuratively). No quarter given and none asked for. There is no gracefulness in the fighting, its about survival and only survival. Its about watching your best friends die in front of your eyes with their guts spilling out.

As mentioned earlier, normally the warriors are fighting for a cause. Its different in this case. Druss fights because that’s the only thing he has done all his life. Anywhere there was a fight, he has been there. While quite not a mercenary, Druss fights for the love of a fight rather than a cause. Rek has always known when to quit in battle and made a name for himself as a sagacious warrior. However, this time he fights on despite knowing that the situation is hopeless. Ulric is another intriguing character. The Nadir had been conquered by the Drenai ages ago and now their strength in ascendancy, they want it all and are astutely led by Ulric. To call Ulric the villain of the story would be unfair though a fairly bitter Ulric does mention “ If I take the castle over all the corpses, history will remember me as a villain”

A gripping, action packed narrative, Gemmell packs quite a punch. Dros Delnoch, the fortress, draws inspiration from Gondor, with its concentric walls. Gemmell does a brilliant job in naming the walls and is very apt. He does offer a minor cop-out in the end but that was something along expected lines. In short, Legend is a good old Swords & Sorcery book driven by strong characters that enable it to be distinguished from other similar books

Rating: 7.5/10

Book Tag

Posted: October 12, 2010 in Books, Tag
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Tags are normally not my thing. I do end up avoiding most of it except when I am really need some blog material :). But then, books have always been my companion, through happy and dark times and I can always find time for a book tag. Without much ado, here it is

Warning: Long Post 🙂

1.Favorite childhood book? Treasure Hunters by Enid Blyton. So, I had basically been gifted this book by my cousin when we had to shift from Bombay to Madras, back in 1993. This book was the life saver and sole companion for a long time in Madras
2.What are you reading right now? Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen -1) – Steven Erikson, Re-reading A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice & Fire – Book 3) – George RR Martin, Legend – David Gemmell
3.Bad book habit? – Damaging the spine of the book by opening it and leaving it down upside down
4.Do you have an e-reader? – Nopes, use MS reader on laptop to read ebooks. Though thinking of buying a Kindle
5.Do you prefer to read one book at a time or several at once? I used to be a one book at a time person but nowadays its multiple at a time
6.Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? I have become a far more discerning reader :)…. Nah, no change.
7.Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? Templar Cross. A total WTF book, with inspirations (and storylines) drawn from (the very worst of) Dan Brown, Jack Higgins & Alistair McLean, with an uninspiring lead character and clunky dialog. Total waste of 3 hours.
8.Favorite book you’ve read this year? (i) The Lies of Locke Lamora. Quite a brilliant storyline with a Venice like setting, a charismatic rogue as the lead, a strong supporting cast, Bluffs & counterbluffs, treachery & deceit, Blood, gore & violence, and a perfect introduction to the world of Locke Lamora. Scott Lynch, total respect. (ii) The First Law Trilogy (Joe Abercrombie). What starts off as a fairly run of the mill series evolves into a complex study of human nature. Hardened cynical fighter, Jaded cynical manipulator, Self centered obnoxious swordsman, Tortured Inquisitor, Blood thirsty, feral & wild barbarian yearning for revenge are characters that are thrown in a simmering cauldron of war, destruction, torture, pillage and savage revenge. Brilliant, cynical and cold hearted, the first law trilogy is quite amazing. The real success of Joe Abercrombie is that you love and loathe all characters equally and Superior Glokta has to be one of the most intriguing characters of the lot. The first book does tend to meander a bit but its worth reading
9.How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Authors yes. I basically do pick up random authors and have actually liked most of them BUT not in genres. I do not experiment much with genres.
10.What is your reading comfort zone? Fantasy Fiction, Action, Thrillers, Murder mysteries, Historical fiction/non-fiction, Political thrillers
11.Can you read on the bus? Hell ya, just give me a place that has enough reading light and some place. I will read
12.Favorite place to read? Sprawled on a comfortable bed with 2 extra lumpy soft pillows
13.What is your policy on book lending? Only to people whom I trust to return it back
14.Do you ever dog-ear books? Nopes
15.Do you ever write in the margins of your books? Sacrilege!!!!
16.Not even with text books? On text books, obviously. It would be filled with scrawls, random notes, etc
17.What is your favorite language to read in? English. Cant read competently enough in any other language
18.What makes you love a book? It was simpler earlier, fast paced story, conspiracies, quick pay-offs, loads of action; Nowadays, it’s the above along with stories that have great characterizations, morally gray and deeply flawed characters, and reward for long term readers
19.What will inspire you to recommend a book? Basically, if its unputdownable, I would recommend it to most. Mostly, recommendations are very person specific.
20.Favorite genre? Fantasy Fiction & Historical fiction
21.Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?) – Sci-fi
22.Favorite biography? Don’t read too many. I read one on Imran Khan, years ago. Loved it totally.
23.Have you ever read a self-help book? Never. Too many people to speak to, if I need help
24.Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? I re-read Blue Horizon by Wilbur Smith. Inspirational in the sense, you just wanted to pack your bags and leave to explore Africa
25.Favorite reading snack? Potato Chips
26.Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience – The Dark Tower series (Stephen King). I just was not comfortable at all with the book at all. Its not just this book. I have not been comfortable with any Stephen King at all.
27.How often do you agree with critics about a book? Hardly read critics review for books. I prefer my fellow Shelfari junta’s recommendations
28.How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I am generally a very generous reviewer. I don’t really rate books very bad. At the same time, if I find a book bad, it must be really bad 
29.If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose? Not a foreign language, but I would certainly like to read in Tamil. My reading speed in Tamil is so slow that Inzy’s walk back to the pavilion when given out by the umpire, seems like an Usain Bolt 100m dash
30.Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand). I have never struggled through a book as much as I did with that and after that decided, no more intimidating books (and certainly no more Ayn Rand)
31.Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin? Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) – started once and gave up in 10 pages. Foucalt’s Pendulum (Umberto Eco) – again heard loads of good stuff about it but have tried twice and given up within 50 pages.
32.Favorite Poet? WB Yeats
33.Favorite fictional character? Really too many, Aragorn, Batman & Wolverine are, of course, on top of the list. Currently, it is Jimmy the Hand (Riftwar Saga, Raymond Feist) ,Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards sequence, Scott Lynch), Captain Shane Schofield (Scarecrow, Matthew Reilly)
34.Favorite fictional villain? The Jackal (Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsythe), The Joker, The Governor (The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman)
35.Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation? Thrillers
36.The longest I’ve gone without reading. – Cant actually remember a time frame where I have gone without reading. Probably must be during the dark days of the 12th standard board exam types
37.Name a book that you could/would not finish.- Loads of them. Refer to 31 for a couple. Most of Rushdie’s works
38.What distracts you easily when you’re reading? Nothing. In fact, I am lost to the world when I read books. But then these days, you kind of multitask most of the times. I just don’t only read. There is something running on the TV or during dinner
39.Favorite film adaptation of a novel? Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park
40.Most disappointing film adaptation? Without doubt, The Lost World. I mean the book was probably one of the best Crichton’s written (even better than Jurassic Park) and the movie was a total damp squib (despite Julianne Moore in it). The only thing retained was the fact that there was another island with dinosaurs. Apart from that, the book and movie diverged wildly away from each other. Ironical really, that the first movie was the best adaptation and the second movie was the worst.
41.The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time? Somewhere around 2k. Hush, don’t tell mom now:)
42.How often do you skim a book before reading it? Not really, I pretty much buy it or I have made up my mind on what I am looking for even before entering the book shop
43.What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through? If the story drags or is slow.
44.Do you like to keep your books organized? The only thing that I actually keep well organized. My bookshelf is grouped author-wise and then is further split into fiction, non-fiction and comics.
45.Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? Never. Even if the book is crappy, I prefer to keep it. I have a habit of re-reading even crappy books 
46.Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. A fantasy mega series. I read the first book of the series and was not too impressed. But then I have heard so much good things from fellow fantasy fiction aficionados that I feel I should give it a second chance but kind of been avoiding it. World War Z by Max Brooks. Again fantastic reviews, amazing critical acclaim but while I am reading Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, I really do not want to read any other post apocalyptic zombie fare
47.Name a book that made you angry – The Quest (Wilbur Smith) & The Fan Club (Irving Wallace) – Both of them heavily exploitative and pornographic. Not the kind of thing you expect from authors like those.
48.A book you didn’t expect to like but did? I wouldn’t say didn’t expect to like but a book I went with absolutely zero expectation but oh so totally loved it was the Reluctant Swordsman by Dave Duncan. One of the quirkiest books I have ever read. Starts of fairly arbitly but there is an overall sense of purpose and direction towards where the story is proceeding. Book 2, The Coming of Wisdom further drives the story towards the destiny of the lead character including the reason to why he is the chosen one. The 3rd book, The Destiny of the Sword is a fine conclusion though it offers a minor cop-out in the end.
49.A book that you expected to like but didn’t? Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix. After the massively phenomenal Prisoner of Azkaban & Goblet of Fire, it was a massive let down. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series; After hearing so much good stuff about it, it was a total “Bang head on keyboard” experience. Massive Fail. Most Robin Cook novels. They have really well thought out plots, thrills, spills, action but the worst ending possible in all cases.
50.Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading? Alistair McLean, Agatha Christie, David Gemmel’s Waylander (all 3 books), C&H (anyplace, anytime), Jack Higgins & Vince Flynn